Raising Children in a Theocracy: Anonymous Parent Shares Personal Story of Living in Rabun County, Georgia

The American Humanist Association recently sent a letter to officials at the Rabun County School District in Tiger, Georgia, on behalf of a local parent objecting to the school district’s repeated promotion of Christianity, including a “Jesus” sign on school property and faculty-led Christian prayers during school hours. The parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares their story.

Lake Tugaloo in Rabun County, GA
Imagine sitting in an auditorium watching your firstborn walk across a stage, smiling ear to ear while they receive recognition for the hard work they’ve accomplished over the past one-eighth of their lifetime. The lessons of self-reliance, integrity, and responsibility you’ve taught are evident in the pride in their heart. Imagine them waiting anxiously, turning around in their seats to catch your gaze, anticipating an embrace, congratulatory words, and much-needed reassurance of the exciting surge of emotions pulsating through their veins. But that moment will not come, because the principal culminates the proceedings with a focus, not on the accomplishments of the young minds below her, but on her personal religious beliefs—displacing and committing the credit for their recognized accomplishments, and of their entire futures to come, to some deity. You’re not offended by these remarks because they do not scare you. And you are not angered but instead disturbed at how much control this administrator effortlessly displays over your child’s attention and focus. The years you’ve spent molding them into self-reliant, ambitious humans who are increasingly capable of navigating their own challenges, engineering solutions to their own problems, and using reason and evidence to reach reliable answers seem to have been whitewashed by tones of obligatory dependence under the suggested need for blessings, assistance, and guidance from a deity if they want to experience true affirmation of their accomplishments. This subliminal concept is reaffirmed again and again over the five minutes of this ritual by referring to the deity as your child’s “Father.” You begin to wonder how often these messages are being transmitted throughout the school year in an environment built upon directional authority and trust. Are these messages being promoted daily, weekly, monthly, or is this sole occurrence simply a demonstration of the administrator’s inability to undergo ceremony without the invocation of her religious dogma? Just how much opposition could you estimate is being propelled against the values and independence you have taught your children since you first congratulated them on their first steps? You look at the auditorium filled with heads lowered in obligation and communal compliance and realizing you are greatly outnumbered, residing within the smallest fraction of a minority and potentially powerless to overshadow the glaring polarization to your values being demonstrated within a public school by the school’s administrator. You leave feeling powerless to stand up against such a force. Now imagine returning a year later, to a similar event for your second-born, and repeating the experience in a different school but with the same administrator. The phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” rings in your ears as you realize you have failed to learn your lesson and have allowed fear to prevent you from standing up for your children, your values, and your sworn oath to the Constitution of the United States. You decide to meet with the superintendent at the Board of Education office and you outline events in a calm, clear voice. You receive a promise of expedient action before walking out the door to find a sign posted above the Board of Education office’s parking lot displaying the name of the deity that’s annually being summoned. You might think, “Well, those signs are all over the place, but this sign isn’t facing oncoming traffic from either direction, nor is it facing outward towards the road, but inward towards the parking lot and the building.” You might consider the possibility that the daily occupants of that public workspace not only don’t consider the sign to be out of place, but consider it a subliminal declaration of their organization’s ultimate loyalty. Imagine wondering whether or not your complaint would be taken seriously or simply be ignored. You wait weeks for a response, calling in and leaving message after message—only to finally receive a distracted and nearly incoherent voicemail from the superintendent, in which you are provided absolutely no assurances that action has truly been taken, but are asked to place your full faith and trust in the word of someone who may be comprehensively dedicated to eliminating your voice from the conversation. Now imagine that all these events circulate around the summoning of a deity, whether that be a deity of Judeo-Christian, Mormonist, Islamic, Hinduist, Buddhist, Native American or Scientologist traditions. Imagine yourself as a member of any of these identities (or none at all) who is required to tolerate an un-Constitutional invocation of your non-preferred deity. I have taught my children to never quit, never determine truth without a fully satisfied burden of proof, and never accept simple answers to complex problems. I fear they live in a theocratic community that will exhaust all resources and spare no expense to overpower their Constitutional protections, juvenile understandings, and youthful emotions in order to squelch their values, insert dogmas into their minds, and mentally subdue them until they submit to lives of dependence, servitude, and communal assimilation. The swarm of messages that I observed since the letter from the American Humanist Association arrived in the mailbox of the Rabun County Board of Education only reaffirmed my suspicions of a communal hostility towards anyone who might not comply with the ideological status quo. The only thing more rampant than demands for my identity to be revealed, assumptions of my character, and the inaccurate perception that I wish to remove the rights of students to pray at school are the demands for my expedited—and sometimes violent—extradition from the Rabun County community. While these threats are marginally influential upon my decision to protect my children from religious extremists by remaining anonymous, it is imperative that I do so in light of the various veiled and explicit death threats via Facebook by members of the Rabun County Christian community and their supporters, including Bob Snyder of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, who suggested, “There are a lot of abandoned water-filled slate and limestone quarries up this way where people go in and are never seen again.” Or Chad Cook who offered, “God, guns, and country aren’t just a saying. Maybe she should find the first before the second finds her. There is plenty of the third for her to get lost in. Rabun County is God’s country.” Or Neville Bingham who eloquently stated, “Shoot the crazy sonofbitch [sic] and get it over with.” Imagine if your children, your value system, your privacy, your security, and even your life were threatened by a large community of religious extremists who rally together in opposition of your attempts at maintaining a Constitutionally-established and Supreme Court-affirmed freedom to send your children to public school to learn in a secular environment free from distraction, intimidation, indoctrination, and most specifically, invocation of the administrator’s preferred deity. Imagine all this. Sadly, I don’t have to.